Austinites Angle For A Piece Of SXSW Cash Cow The South by Southwest music festival bills itself as "the premier destination for discovery." It's also the destination for truckloads of cash, as music and art fans flock to Austin, Texas, each March. Last year's event brought nearly $100 million to the city, according to one analyst.
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Austinites Angle For A Piece Of SXSW Cash Cow

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Austinites Angle For A Piece Of SXSW Cash Cow

Austinites Angle For A Piece Of SXSW Cash Cow

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The South by Southwest music festival is underway in Austin, Texas. The annual event is one big city-wide party for the music industry. More than 200,000 people are expected in Austin - musicians, recording labels looking for new talent, music journalists, and of course plenty of fans.

The gathering is a huge boon for the city, as NPR's Sam Sanders reports.

SAM SANDERS: South by Southwest is a cash cow for the city of Austin, generating millions in just over a week.

Mr. BEN LOFTSGAARDEN (Economic Analyst, Greyhill Advisors): About $99 million, almost $100 million was basically injected back into the Austin economy over that nine-day festival period. That's outside of past money. That's basically spending by folks once they get to the Austin region.

SANDERS: That's Ben Loftsgaarden and those were last year's numbers. Loftsgaarden is a principal at Greyhill Advisors, which studies the economic impact of South by Southwest. He says that people will still come in droves, but they might spend a bit here because of the tough economic times. And we're not just talking about ticket sales; there's a kind of underground economy that's grown up around the festival: food vendors, merchandisers, knick-knack cards, flower sellers, cab drivers.

Well, not exactly cab drivers. For the South by Southwest crowd, pedicabs, or bike taxis, are all the rage.

Ms. AMY WALLER (Pedicab Driver): The attenders for South by Southwest are much more likely to take a pedicab versus a cab. So it's just, you know, it's cooler. It's trendier, and so that's why we're making money.

SANDERS: That's Amy Waller, a pedicab driver who moved to Austin from Baltimore. She's hoping to make some pretty good money shuttling conference attendees to and fro.

Ms. WALLER: Maybe like a month's pay at my day job, my nine to five.

SANDERS: And already knows how she's going to spend it.

Ms. WALLER: Everyone kind of plans like what they're going to do with their money. My plan is to try to buy a motorcycle so I can get rid of my car. That's what I'm banking on, that's my goal.

SANDERS: During the festival, there's no shortage of food. Marc Stimak owns Texas Picnic Company Barbeque and Char Pit. It's a mobile food trailer currently set up on Sabine Street downtown.

Mr. MARC STIMAK (Owner, Texas Picnic Company Barbeque and Char Pit): We do chopped beef, Carolina pulled pork, and Alabama chicken. Comes with a white barbeque sauce, 12 ingredients - killer good.

SANDERS: And in a nod to Tex-Mex tradition, you can get it all in a tortilla. Every year mobile food vendors take up strategic positions all over downtown. In a good South by Southwest year, Stimak will make four to six times what he would in a normal week.

Mr. STIMAK: It's kind of like our Christmas, if you will. This is the Christmas season.

SANDERS: But he says he is seeing people spend less. Patrons who used to buy Stimak's two-for-one taco special just for themselves are now splitting it with friends. Still, almost all of the vendors are local, which means almost of the money goes back into the local economy.

South by Southwest's executive director Mike Shea says Austin is the perfect partner for the festival, especially compared to other, colder cities.

Mr. MIKE SHEA (Executive Director, South by Southwest): Every time it freezes in New York, we get another hundred registrations in Austin.

SANDERS: And with every one of those new registrants, Austin prepares a little more food, a few more cab rides, and a lot more fun.

Sam Sanders, NPR News, Austin.

WERTHEIMER: For complete coverage of the festival in Austin, go to npr.org/music.

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